By Ochereome Nnanna
WHEN the coronavirus pandemic reached the shores of Kano State, Governor Abdullahi Ganduje did something that must be seen as a crime against humanity: he “deported” thousands of almajirai street children to their states of origin in the North.
This action surprised me, really. The almajiri system, whereby children aged from five to 15 are sent by poor parents in the Islamic North to Koranic Mallams for Islamic education (the Mallams in turn send them into the streets to beg) is an age-old culture in the entire Sokoto Caliphate and Muslim North.
Incidentally, there is nothing like that in the Middle East and Asia from where Islam was imported into sub-Saharan Africa. Certainly, there is nothing like almajiri in Western Nigeria where Islam, though a strong cultural factor, has a very progressive and modern orientation.
Ganduje’s move was a surprise to me because the Islamic North is a unified society. Islam is the common platform of unity which transcends ethnicity. I lived and worked in the North for five years and I have toured all the Northern states except Zamfara. There is social and cultural homogeneity. Someone can move from Maiduguri to Sokoto and be accepted and treated almost like an indigene, so long as he is a Muslim. Governor Nasir el Rufai was born in Katsina but he is the governor of Kaduna State.
The same thing obtains in the South West but along ethnic lines. That is why Babajide Sanwo-Olu, who is an indigene of Ogun State is now the governor of Lagos State. In fact, Lagos has traditionally been governed by non-indigene Yoruba elements. But the South East and South-South are the most fractious societies in the country, where a non-indigene cannot contest election or hold a political office even if he belongs to the ethnic, cultural and religious backgrounds of the indigenous.
But, even in the South East and South-South where the indigeneship factor is exploited against people of the same religious and cultural backgrounds who are non-indigenes, no one was expelled or discriminated against because of coronavirus. So, why did Ganduje commit what was obviously anathema in the North? He should answer that question.
What bothers me more is how some elements reacted to Ganduje’s “deportation” of the almajirai. El Rufai reacted excellently. He received the returnees and sent them for testing. Those cleared were sent to their families for immediate enrolment in the state’s free education scheme. Those infected were kept in care centres for treatment.
Some other governors did not behave well. They turned their backs to the almajirai. Suddenly, we started seeing some of these unfortunate young boys being loaded in trucks and trailers used to convey goods, cement, foodstuff and livestock. They were smuggled to the South East, South-South and South-West in the dead of the night. A closer examination of the trafficked individuals shows that many of them are not almajirai. They are grown-up young men being dumped all over the South.
Now this question: How did these trucks pass through the various state borders being manned by the Police, Army, Civil Defence and other Federal security agencies in clear violation of President Muhammadu Buhari and the Governors’ COVID-19 containment orders? Many states were forced to send their own indigenous task forces to their borders. This was why the trafficked human cargoes were intercepted and turned back. Yet, the leader of the Abia State Task force complained of being heavily pressured to allow the smuggled individuals in.
It is obvious that some agents of darkness are at work. While the nation is struggling to beat the worldwide pandemic which is threatening to overwhelm our system, some evil-minded individuals in high places have seized the opportunity, in cahoots with their collaborators in our security system, to push these people of questionable motives down South under the cover of the night.
This has nothing to do with the spurious argument of “Nigerians’ fundamental right to freedom of movement and to live in any part of the country”. Your freedom to live in any part of the country does not entitle you to move into people’s lands and build ethnic settlements without the express consent of the owners of the land. That is a criminal offence and often leads to bloodshed.
That some faceless and not-so-faceless individuals are allowing their trucks to be used in the massive movement of people of questionable motives to occupy territories belonging to others means there is an evil agenda which must be unmasked.
Moreover, why do it at this time when the nation is fighting a pandemic; moving people from areas of high infection to areas of negligible spread? The driving force of these human movements must be something more important to those behind them than the need to stay home and join the fight to defeat the pandemic.
What is the basis of sending the almajirai to areas where they will likely be treated as outcasts? The Islamic culture is almost alien to the South East and South-South. It is practised mainly by non-indigenes. Who will look after these almajirai or educate them there? There is no other conclusion to be drawn other than that those behind the human shipments are looking for trouble.
This calls for vigilance and firm resolve by the governments and people of the targeted states. They must take every legitimate step to safeguard their people and property. Since the security agencies that should implement the laws of the country and protect law-abiding citizens appear to have abandoned their roles and allowed the evil forces to have a free ride, it is up to us to look out for ourselves within the ambit of the law and the rules of natural justice.
Protect yourself or you die.